Fatherhood 8 Years In
Elliott flourishes, and this pleases me. She has friends and family. She has school and her dog. She has more or less good alignment with the things that matter; I have every reason to believe she is enmeshed in numerous virtuous circles that will see her enjoying the best chance of flourishing through every life stage. And I believe this even as I’m increasingly agnostic about which scripts, strategies, and tactics will give her the best chance to weave the life she’ll want. She needs what she needs now -near as I can figure it- and what she needs then is somewhat mysterious to me, though not so mysterious that I can’t make bets in how I raise her.
The future will be like now, probably moreso except where it will be different. Elliott will see more of it than me, Gods willing.
I love Ellie and she loves me. She is perhaps more interested in screens than me in the same way that she is more interested in sugar than salad. She practices drama, acting out mannerisms and little stories or pranks she sees on screen. Girl world -a cruel maelstrom I only know by reputation- nibbles at the edges before (I assume) making a proper appearance with puberty; friends can be in or out with lightning flash jerks in her social life, there are sleights and betrayals I don’t understand. She wants to make videos of her own. She’s eager to correct me, to be seen as possessing wisdom and knowledge. She seeks opportunities for control and agency, acts in a manner that seems so grown up and sensible before collapsing into incredible stupid, ‘oh yeah you’re a child’ ignorance, and strange spots of regression fear especially when she’s overwhelmed.
A lot of parenting as I understand it is providing a safe base and availability. Ellie is largely self-directed, enjoys her friends and activities. There’s still plenty we share, but mostly (but not entirely) she wants me around/available rather than in her games (though she certainly still loves to play with me, spend time with me). I balance and rebalance involving her in the (developmentally appropriate) aspects of managing a life (cooking, cleaning, ect), playing, exposing her to novelty & adventure contrasted with repetitive pleasures & comforts, and try to mind all the things she can’t see/can’t know the importance of — a well grown executive function (which she has yet had a chance to develop) seeks to keep past, present, and future on good terms. She sings, likes to tease me and she’s slowly getting better at it.
Much of what I do is providing executive function while the child grows their own. She doesn’t have the perspective timeline to understand things, doesn’t know how to weigh school success vs self determination (though do I?). Her tastes (as many human tastes sadly) run towards sweet rather than fiber; she’d rather spend time with a bratty ten year old we won’t know in 5 months over an uncle with wisdom to share who loves her and won’t be around for most of her life but so it goes. Nudges and coaxes to do the things she doesn’t value yet; make/maintain good relations with her kin, learn the language of clothing such as she can, spend some time practicing boredom (though certainly not so intensely as bad, or even mediocre schooling tends to demand).
The executive function is nudging her towards time spent in a satisfying way. I try and provide conscious counterbalance to the other big influences in her life; school, the cacophony of screen, and her friend groups. There’s plenty of things I can’t teach, either because I’m not suited or because teaching takes time and I only have so much. Because even as I’m raising her I need to deal with the logistic, financial, and existential infrastructure duties that makes her life possible.
Home economics is an art and craft of sufficient complexity and value that that could be the whole of my life, but managing my home is not quite the same as parenting, as the nucleus that is my relationship with my daughter. Same is true with volunteering at the school, or planning family vacations, or much else… one of the pitfalls of wanting to be a good parent is the never-ending temptation to confuse the valuable, worthy activities/commitments that support your child and intersect with parenting with parenting & relationality itself.
I like adventuring with Ellie, we pull from the adventure jar when we’re stuck/unsure or just to add a dash of randomization to our day.
My daughter is tall and bright and strong and full of desire and love. I couldn’t ask for a better kid, and I do my best to practice gratitude everyday for this blessing that is my child. Somedays that practice is more difficult, especially when she scowls at the dinner I prepared with love whines about why she isn’t getting mac & cheese. But even in that, I feel connected to my ancestors, to the parents all around me who have been having the same fights (or very similar ones) for as long as there has been children, as long as there’s been people who only felt hunger by choice.
Ellie has taught me much, and continues to teach me. I fear middle school and the attendant potent cocktail of puberty and girl world, but only just. Our life works, and my life often makes the most sense, when my daughter is with me or we’re at home together.